Thursday 21st December 2023

December 20, 2023

As very rarely, the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) offered justifications, arguments and explanations regarding the budget that will be approved, in this case, for the year 2024. The authorities had no choice.

Initially they had requested a budget that amounted to $32,754.5 million. But according to Carlos González, Vice Minister of Economy, after evaluating the modifications proposed by the Budget Commission of the National Assembly, the Executive observed that they did not contemplate the financing sources that would allow compliance with the constitutional order of a budget of balanced income and expenses, “which did not make it possible and did not make it viable to finance that proposal.”

What González did not detail is that in that first budget of $32,754.5 million, there was a significant imbalance between income and expenses since its genesis.

With that budget, the State would have faced a negative balance of $5,851 million. Then, they resorted to including in the “adjustments” line an item of $4.92 million, which would be equivalent to the amount that supposedly would not be executed because it was an election year.

That is, of this budget of $32,754.5, $4,92 million would not be executed.

However, when budget experts saw such a figure, they warned that the subexecution line, historically, is usually no more than $800 million.

These comments went unnoticed, until the situation became complicated when the Government was certain that it would not have mining contributions for 2024, in addition to the pace of economic growth that the country was experiencing having cooled down (as a result of protests against the mining contract). ). The MEF had no choice but to recommend another budget, cut in operating and investment expenses.

Now, the new recommended budget amounts to $30,690.4 million , that is, $2,64 million less than the one presented last July.

This means several things in the words of Vice Minister González and the head of Economy Héctor Alexander.

“The total decrease in the original project for the year 2024, which the National Assembly had presented, amounts to $2,64 million. This adjustment or decrease affects the operating programs by $526.4 million and the investment program by $1,537.7 million,” González indicated.

The largest adjustment is made in the central government, for $780.5 million, the decentralized entities are cut by $362.7 million. In public companies the reduction is $149.5 million and in financial intermediaries it would be $772.4 million.

González said that almost all entities have been affected, with the exception of the education sector, which will be respected for the increase in its allocation, which went from 5.5% of the gross domestic product to 7%, as established in the Law. 362 of February 2, 2023, which allocates investments in the educational sector.

“The budget of the Judicial Branch, of the Public Ministry, is also maintained, which includes the Attorney General’s Office of the Administration and the Attorney General’s Office, the prosecutor’s offices. The same happens with institutions such as the Superintendency of Banks, the Superintendency of Securities and the Superintendency of Non-Financial Subjects, which have to do with the commitment to strengthen the management of the country in what would be the control of compliance with the 17 commitments to exit from the gray lists,” said González.

For Minister Alexander, these are unavoidable costs. Items that cannot be cut and that for the most part make budget management inflexible, such as debt payment and salary increases due to special laws.

Alexander looked overwhelmed at the press conference he held yesterday, December 19. To begin with, he acknowledged that they do not usually clearly explain the country’s budget structure.

The 80-year-old veteran is also not popular in the Cabinet with which he shares positions on equal terms.

He commented that he had long told President Laurentino Cortizo “that as time goes by the Minister of Economy and Finance was going to be increasingly unpopular with the Government itself, possibly because there are reductions for many institutions and they are not going to necessarily be so happy, and we understand it.”

Alexander also recalled that this Government has faced difficult situations, once again resorting to the effects of the pandemic and the collapse in the economy three years ago, when the country was closed for more than six months, which sank many activities.

The new budget will be presented on Thursday, December 21, before the National Assembly , to wait for a second step, which would be the calling of extraordinary sessions by President Laurentino Cortizo.

The President of the Republic, Laurentino Cortizo, has called the National Assembly to extraordinary sessions from December 21 to 31, 2023, exclusively to approve bill 1041, which adopts the general budget of the State corresponding to the fiscal year 2024.

This is stated in Executive Decree 229 of December 20, 2023 , signed by Cortizo and the Minister of the Presidency, José Simpson, which was promulgated in the Official Gazette this Wednesday.

The legislative plenary session is in recess until next January 2, so the call of the Executive was necessary.

The decree specifies that the only point to be discussed in these extraordinary sessions is the discussion of bill 1041 and its “modifications”, which were approved by the Cabinet Council last Monday. This clears up the doubt whether the Executive would present a new bill or adjustments would be made to the current project, presented on July 31 by the Minister of Economy and Finance, Héctor Alexander.

In this month of December, agents from the National Aeronaval Service and the National Border Service have been transferred to provide support to the National Police.

This was announced by the Minister of Public Security, Juan Manuel Pino, on December 20, 2023, when referring to the security measures implemented during this busy time of the year.

Pino said that security standards for banks have been reinforced and added that permanent units have been installed in some of these entities.

Likewise, the official commented that in the bank robberies that occurred in recent months, the criminals “broke the windows and broke in,” as if they were robbing a store.

He said that although the majority of these robberies were foiled, he asked the banks to improve protection and security in these facilities. “We must guard the armed banks,” he assured.

Around $140 million has been disbursed by the Government in repairs and maintenance between the Las Américas and Centenario bridges, in the last four administrations.

However, last November, the Ministry of Public Works (MOP) awarded the contracts for new maintenance projects for these two bridges, which would raise the amount in maintenance to $151.9 million.

The maintenance of the Bridge of the Americas will be carried out by the Puente de Las Américas CAA Rehabilitation Consortium for an amount of $6.2 million. While the responsibility for the work on the Centenario Bridge was awarded to the CAA Centenario Bridge Rehabilitation Consortium ($5.7 million)

Despite the investments made, complaints about the poor condition of both structures are persistent, especially due to the rolling joints that show considerable deterioration in the internal lanes, gaps in the track, uneven slabs, among other problems.

Just traveling across the Centenario from Panama City to Panama West is an odyssey, because at the entrance to the bridge there is a large gap, the result of damage to the rolling joint.

More than 65,000 vehicles pass through this road daily, one of them belongs to Milagros Moreno, a resident of one of the neighborhoods of Panama Oeste. “Traveling across the Las Américas Bridge is horrible, especially at night, since there are no lights, there are lanes that change suddenly and there are not enough signs,” he said.

Moreno pointed out that on the Centenario bridge, where 165,000 cars travel, it is also complex to travel, especially at “rush hour, since traffic is difficult because in Burunga they close lanes, to make way for the fourth lane from Panama Oeste towards Panama City. Panama”.

The administration of the Tocumen International Airport confirmed that the five boarding gates that were inoperative in terminal 2 (T2) have been enabled, after carrying out temporary work that allows aircraft to park on part of the taxiing platform that it had. unevenness.

Last November, Raffoul Arab, general manager of the Tocumen International Airport, had revealed to La Prensa that as a result of the collapse of the taxiway, Tocumen had closed several of the 20 boarding bridges in Terminal 2, due to security reasons, which affected the effectiveness of operations.

After finding a “temporary” solution to this gap, Tocumen now has 20 doors operational for passenger boarding.

The solution is temporary because the possible structural damage to the taxiways would be added to the list of pending works that the contractor Odebrecht, which was in charge of the work, would have to correct.

Tocumen maintains legal disputes with Odebrecht in the field of public procurement and arbitration.

The work, which ended up costing $917.9 million and which should have been delivered in 2019, began operations in June 2022, but has been marked by delays, addendums, claims, fines, incomplete work and new discoveries.

Airlines operate at the Tocumen airport, 17 cargo and 16 passenger.

Regarding international connections, in the month of September Tocumen increased direct routes to 87 destinations to the main cities of Latin America and Europe.

From January to November of this year, 16.2 million passengers had traveled.


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